Bamse, the Sea Dog War Hero

by jptanabe

The story of the Norwegian St Bernard dog, Bamse, who became a war hero. A memorial statue is in Montrose, Scotland.

You've probably never heard of Bamse, the St. Bernard dog who became a war hero. I hadn't until recently. This dog, whose name is Norwegian for "teddy bear," had a statue erected in his honor in Montrose, Scotland. Since my family now lives in Montrose I was introduced to Bamse, well at least his statue, while visiting the sights of the town.

Then, of course, having met the larger than life statue I wanted to know more about this dog! There was some information on the memorial beside the statue and I quickly got intrigued. This dog came to Scotland on a Norwegian boat that was stationed in Dundee, which is where I grew up! Now, I remember as a child hearing that there were Norwegians in the area during the war, but I didn't know there was a dog with them. I wanted to know more about his story. Read on if you're interested.

Images are copyright Jennifer P. Tanabe, unless otherwise noted.

Bamse's Early Life

in Norway

Bamse (pronounced "Bumpsa" in Norwegian) was owned by the Hafto family, who lived in the northern part of Norway. There is a story of Bamse's early time with this family. The youngest daughter, Vigdis, became very ill and was not expected to live. Bamse took up residence in her room for 12 days and nights, allowing only the doctor and her mother to enter. The child recovered!

called to serve

Erling Hafto was a Captain in the Royal Norwegian Navy. His ship, the Thorodd, was called into action in 1939 with Bamse on board. Bamse soon became a valiant member of the crew, keeping up the morale of the sailors by standing at the bow of the ship wearing a special helmet they made for him.

In 1940 Norway was invaded by the German Nazis and the Thorodd escaped to Scotland. A new chapter of Bamse's life began!

Exciting Times in Scotland

in Dundee and Montrose

The Thorodd was stationed in Dundee and Montrose during the war. Naturally, sailors being how they are, whenever the ship was in port the sailors frequented the pubs. Bamse followed them, and was known to enjoy a pint of beer along with his shipmates!

It seems that Bamse did not overindulge, although some of his shipmates did. One story tells of how a sailor, presumably having imbibed a bit too much, fell in the water at the Dundee Docks. Bamse saw what happened and started barking to draw attention, and then jumped in the water to keep the man afloat, still barking, until they were both rescued.

There are also stories of how Bamse was good at ending fights. When anyone started a fight with one of his crewmates, Bamse got up on his hind legs and put his paws on the attackers shoulders. now Bamse was over 6 feet tall, so that was the end of the fight.

Bamse also took it upon himself to round up his crew. Given his own bus pass, Bamse was able to travel around the town to all the pubs to make sure no-one was left behind!

Historical Photos of Bamse and his Shipmates

from the Bamse monument
The Memorial
The Memorial
Jennifer P. Tanabe
Bamse with his tin helmet, and being given a bath by shipmates
Bamse with his tin helmet, and being given a bath by shipmates
Jennifer P. Tanabe
Bamse's burial
Bamse's burial
Jennifer P. Tanabe
End of his Life

When his owner, Captain Hafto, was assigned to a different ship he wanted to take Bamse with him. But the crew loved Bamse so much they threatened mutiny if Bamse left! So Captain Hafto agreed to let Bamse continue serving on the Thorodd till the end of the war.

Unfortunately the war lasted longer than Bamse; he died in July 1944 in Montrose, never returning to the Hafto family.

Bamse was buried in Montrose with a great funeral procession. All the children lined the streets (they closed the schools of course!) to see Bamse's coffin, covered in the Royal Norwegian flag, carried by the sailors from the Thorodd. It was a great moment of mourning shared by Scots and Norwegians together.

The Statue

A statue to Bamse was erected in Montrose, unveiled in October 2006 by none other than Prince Andrew, the Duke of York. Quite fitting that British royalty should so honor this Norwegian hero of the Second World War.

The statue was commissioned to be created by Alan Herriot, a famous Scottish sculptor. The sculpture is larger than life (I can testify to that!) and stands on a large granite base. A fundraising effort was undertaken to raise the money, which was raised not only from donors in Scotland but also in Norway, and around the world.

The unveiling was a momentous occasion. Not only was Prince Andrew the guest of honor, there were representatives of the Royal Norwegian Navy and British Navy, all the children from Montrose, and Vigdis Hafto, daughter of Bamse's owner, whom Bamse had watched over during her illness as a child, was a truly special guest.

Statue of Bamse in Montrose

Bamse Statue in Montrose
Bamse Statue in Montrose
Jennifer P. Tanabe
Statue of Bamse showing plaque
Statue of Bamse showing plaque
Jennifer P. Tanabe
Bamse's head
Bamse's head
Jennifer P. Tanabe

Read the story of Bamse


Written by Angus Whitson who writes a weekly column 'Man With two Dogs' in the Dundee Courier newspaper, and Andrew Orr, chairman of the Montrose Bamse Project, Sea Dog Bamse is a great tribute to this extraordinary dog.

Learn more about Bamse

  • Bamse Project - Montrose Heritage Trust website about Bamse
  • Thorodd - Page about the Thorodd, Bamse's ship
Updated: 10/05/2023, jptanabe
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Have you heard of Bamse? Isn't this a great story!

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CruiseReady on 07/21/2015

What a wonderful story. He did, indeed deserve to have a statue in his honor.

jptanabe on 07/11/2015

Thanks! I agree, Bamse is a hero.

WriterArtist on 07/11/2015

Loved the story of the adorable Bamse. He is indeed a hero.

blackspanielgallery on 07/11/2015

Quite an interesting story.

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